When Stephen T. Harding took over the Graeagle Store in 1970, he knew nothing about the grocery business.
“For the first 50 years of his life he never spent time in a grocery store other than grabbing a loaf of bread for my mom on his way home from work,” said Steve Harding, the senior Harding’s son and current owner of the store.
The elder Harding died June 4 at his Graeagle home. Two mornings later, sitting in the Graeagle Store’s back office, Steve Harding reminisced about his dad.
He said his father had discovered the picturesque community in 1969 while on a golf junket with his friend George McClaskey. “He left word with Archie Hamlin (a local Realtor) and said, ‘If there’s any way I can make a living would you let me know?’” Steve recalled.
Just a few months later Hamlin called. It was perfect timing for Harding, who was witnessing the deterioration of his profession — the tool and dye industry — and was ready for a change.
Harding had to learn the grocery business and to illustrate the point Steve recalled an interaction between his father and produce vendor Bud Waller.
Apparently Waller had brought broccoli for the Graeagle Store, but Harding balked that it would cost him 50 cents a bunch, forcing him to charge his customers even more.
Harding called the price “preposterous,” upon which Waller asked him, “When did you last buy broccoli?”
“Never have,” Harding responded.
Steve laughed when he told the story, but choked up a short time later when asked what he would miss most about his dad, who lived just down the street from him.
“His presence,” Steve said. “This is so permanent.”
Though Harding retired in 1980, relinquishing the store to his son, he was still a familiar face to customers — often helping out as needed.
But he made sure that he had plenty of time for his favorite pastimes: golf and cribbage.
“They were his passions,” Steve said.
Harding was a member of the Graeagle Men’s Golf Association, and a past president.
That’s how Ray Donnenwirth met Harding. “He was always positive and upbeat,” Donnenwirth said. “He never complained.”
Donnenwirth helped edit a profile of Harding’s life that is featured in the book “Plumas-Sierra Seniors: Their Story.” The book is available at the Williams House Museum in Portola.
“He and George Bartlett were the champion cribbage players,” Donnenwirth recalled.
“He played in tournaments all over the West,” Steve said and noted that at one time his father ranked among the top 50 cribbage players in the country.
While Harding made time to play, he also devoted time to his community.
“My dad and Harvey West were old school. They thought it was important to devote time to developing the community that we live in,” Steve said.
Leah West, Harvey’s daughter-in-law, agreed and said they were very much alike in that way.
“We used to call him ‘Pops,’” she said of Harding. “He was very active in the VFW and he’d come in and hand me their newsletter.”
Harding was a past commander of the local VFW post. He was also a past president of the Rotary Club of Portola and the Graeagle Property Owners Association. He was a charter member of the Calpine Elks.
In addition to his community work and cribbage, Harding enjoyed watching sports on television.
“He was a Giants and 49ers fan all his life,” Steve said of the Bay Area native.
“He loved sports; he would watch any sport,” Steve said. “He would watch the 10 o’clock news to keep current, but the rest of the time it was cribbage and sports on TV.”
Steve said that his father lived independently until just recently, but it was his lungs and legs that troubled him.
“My father was part of that greatest generation,” he said. “My dad’s turn was on Monday.”
Harding’s wife, Joyce, predeceased him in 2002. They had met while he was attending UCLA and were married for 62 years. In addition to son Steve, the couple had a daughter, Jane, and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Per Harding’s wishes, there will be no services. A copper plaque will be placed next to his wife’s grave at the Mohawk Cemetery.
For more about his life, see the obituary section of this newspaper.
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